View Full Version : Bartram Trail (GA), Feb 26-27 & Mar 19-25, 2011

2011-04-22, 13:17
Saturday, February 26, 2011

I had been sick earlier in the week, but I had been planning for to hike the first 19 miles of the Bartram Trail before Spring break this year, so I could finish the remaining 90 miles at a more leisurely pace over my break in late March.

So my wife dropped me off around 10:30 on this Saturday morning at the Russell Bridge Trailhead. This small parking lot is on Highway 28, just north of the Chattooga River bridge that leads into South Carolina. There, Dewey posed for a picture with one of the many engraved boulders that mark key points along the Bartram Trail.

Then we crossed the highway heading west, following the general course of the Chattooga River. Shortly into the walk, I passed the first of the plastic yellow diamond blazes that mark the Bartram Trail.

I was surprised at how well the BT is maintained and blazed. The guidebook mentions several blazes where blazes and cross-trails could be confusing. But the folks who maintain the BT have clearly spent some quality time taking care of this corridor. There was never a confusing point during the entire weekend.

The area along the trail had once been a road bed and reminders of the folks who lived there remained. An old hay baler stood out as evidence this path once catered to vehicles.

Just after, the foundation and chimney of a vanished home gave witness to the past.

The trail was relatively level, and despite some mild weakness from the previous week’s illness, I ambled on with relative ease. Occasional glimpses of the Chattooga greeted me as I wandered on. As I approached Warwoman Creek, I was happy to see one of the longer bridges along this section of trail, preventing the need for a ford.

Shortly after, I passed by the Earls Ford area, I eased around a car campsite and moved along swiftly. On the other side of the camp, I encountered a couple of dayhikers wandering along. They were the first people I had seen in 6 ½ miles of trail. I continued on, planning to make my way to a campsite around mile 9 near Dicks Creek Falls. However, just past mile 8, as I passed a couple of fly fishermen, I spotted a beautiful flat improved campsite along the Chattooga. At 2:30, a mile from my planned camp, I had found home for the night.

After setup and a bowl of soup, I posed for a quick shot with Dew Bear.

Then I settled in for a wonderful nap. Around 5:30 I rose and cooked a dinner of chili mac. I settled back in to read for a while. My head cold and congestion of the past week began to seep back in and I spent a good deal of time clearing my sinuses until some Benadryl kicked in, and I could finally drift back to sleep, a sky of stars my last images.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

I was up and moving reasonably early, despite only a so-so night of sleep. My cold was a part of the problem. Also, I was using my wife’s Hammock Gear 3-Season Burrow overquilt. The night only got down to about 40 and the quilt was more than warm enough, but the narrow cut at the legs was a touch more snug than I would have liked in my hammock. If I had been using a full-length underquilt, there would not have been any cold spots. But with my Yeti underquilt (a 2/3 model) and a pad at the legs, there were a couple of narrow gaps that the pad would not wrap around, and the snaps would pop loose as I fell asleep and my feet spread.

What can I say? I have thick legs and thick wide feet. I come by my name honestly.

I would wake up, adjust, and go back to sleep again. If I had put on my pants, it probably would have solved the problem, but with a 20 degree quilt in 40 degree weather, I never got cool enough to warrant the switch. Ironically, my main worry was that my upper body would be too exposed, as the quilt has a 48-inch girth and my chest is around 52 inches before you add arms. But with the wrap of my underquilt, it was never a problem.

I enjoyed a breakfast of a bacon sandwich and hit the trail around 8:00. A mile later, I passed the nice campsite listed in the guidebook. It really was very nice, but it lacked the chatter of the Chattooga from the night before. Just past the site, I joined the side trail to Dicks Creek Falls.

It was a short walk down the trail to the top of the falls.

Then a steep 20 or so yard bushwhack down to the beach at the base of the falls.

To my back, the Chattooga River rapids rolled on by.

As I rejoined the Bartram Trail, I began a series of short climbs. Just past the first one, the Bartram and Chattooga Trails, which had run together since I stepped off the previous day, finally parted ways.

I couldn’t help but think I had to walk the full 20-something mile Chattooga Trail in warmer when the river would offer comfort from a sweaty day.

Then I headed up a 700 or so foot climb that brought me to a long ridge walk that I would follow most of the day. Views would be minimal, though the lack of spring foliage offered me some partial images of the surrounding mountains. The short ups and downs began to really wear on my, and I could tell I wasn’t fully past whatever bug had haunted me. The roller coaster reminded me very much of the Georgia AT. But despite a bit of weakness, I still rolled along, lulled into a rhythm, spooked out of it by the explosion of the occasional grouse, and ambling ever onward.

Water was somewhat limited on these ridges. A couple of sources were noted in the guidebook, well down into the gorges, but I pushed on to the joyful little waterfalls just off trail around mile 15. It was very very welcome.

The afternoon was warming up nicely, and even some cold-blooded cousins came out to enjoy the weather.

I rolled onward, enjoying an occasional view down to Camp Rainey Mountain, the local scout camp and its lake. Around mile 17 I passed the “Goat Trail” an access trail from the camp.

Despite huffing and puffing a bit on the hills, I sped up knowing my truck was waiting just 1 ½ miles beyond. I pushed on well and eventually came to Warwoman Dell Picnic Area. It was a nerve-wracking descent because I could see picnic shelters and parking areas, but no sign of my truck. As I arrived at the shelters and signs with maps, I realized this picnic area was quite a bit bigger than I had realized. I relaxed enough to read a couple of interpretive signs, including the one about the old Blue Ridge Railroad in this area.

From there, I headed down the gravel road about perhaps a quarter mile, where I found my truck waiting. I stowed my gear, turned over the engine, and began my drive home, thoughts of returning to this place in three weeks to finish the Bartram Trail.

2011-04-22, 13:18
Saturday, March 19, 2011

So Spring Break was here, and I was determined to finish the trail.

After shuttling my truck to Buckeye Creek Trailhead, where the southern 55-mile leg ended south of Franklin, NC, my wife dropped me off at Warwoman Dell picnic area. We had lunch there, then I stepped off up the trail, quickly crossing Warwoman Road.

After the relatively mild terrain of the Chattooga River walk, I knew I was now entering the mountain portion of the GA Bartram Trail. The grade was relatively steep at first, then it mellowed considerably as I crossed a footbridge right next to the first of many small waterfalls.

A couple of miles later, I approached Martin Creek Campsite. It was full of tents, maybe eight. A short while later, I encountered their owners, a scout group at the boardwalk overlooking Martin Creek Falls. The falls were definitely rocking.

By this point the sun was coming out. The temperature was around 80. Now in the south, 80 degrees is pretty mellow. But after temps in the 50’s earlier in the week, and an almost complete lack of shade due to no leaves, 80 made for some warm hiking up the ridgeline. Still, the weather brought out plenty of backpackers. I passed three small groups and another scout group over the next few miles. But the miles and elevation dropped away slowly.

At Windy Gap, Dewey stopped for a shot with another Georgia highlight, one of the many carved boulders found on the trail.

I had planned a 12-mile day to Saltrock Gap, but between the late start and the warmth of the day, I decided to stop a mile short at a stream near the summit of Flat Top. A mile before camp, a light sprinkling rain began. As soon as I put my pack cover on, the rain stopped….

Fortunately, Dewey and I were able to enjoy the overlook a half-mile before our camp.

When we arrived at camp, there were already a couple of other campers there, including another hammocker. They were courteous and fine with my setting up on the other side of the campsite.

I cooked dinner and settled in for the evening. I enjoyed reading and listening to the campfire my site mates had stoked up in the distance. Before long, I drifted off to sleep.

Sunday, March 20

The first day of Spring began on a less than auspicious note. I had been sure to drink plenty of water in camp, but I awoke around 1 AM with a mild headache. I drank more water and drifted back to sleep. I awoke again around 4:30 with a deeper headache. I urinated and noted the urine was nearly clear, so dehydration didn’t seem like the issue.

I thought maybe the headache was due to congestion from allergies, so I took a zirtec and a couple of Tylenol and lay back down. I lay restlessly for about 15-20 minutes until my stomach churned. Finally , I rolled over in my hammock and hurled over the side. The Tylenol flavored water was a bit nasty, but within 3 minutes, the headache all but disappeared. I can only assume I had been suffering from a migraine. Then I slept the sleep of the dead.

I knew this would be a long day. I had about 13 miles planned with 3000 feet of climbing. But when my alarm rang, my body told me I needed sleep more than an early start. I drifted off for another hour, eventually rising and heading up the trail around 9 AM.

The climb up to Rabun Bald felt remarkably strong, due at least partly to cooler weather. Rabun Bald is the highest point on the GA Bartram Trail, and the second highest point in the whole state at 4696 feet. Like so many southern balds, the summit is no longer bald of trees and brush. But the fire tower atop still allows excellent 360 views.

The wind up top was enough to nearly cut you. Dewey and I quickly snapped a photo with our stickpic.

Then we headed back down the trail. Though the day offered little sun, I at least enjoyed the thought that I might have some shade from the long stretches of rhododendron tunnel that abounded in the region.

As I continued down the mountain, I encountered a number of dayhikers approaching the summit. I also passed the first of many houses just off the trail. Soon I reached Hale Ridge Road and the border with North Carolina. As I pushed into the trailhead, I said goodbye to the yellow diamonds of the GA BT and hello to the yellow rectangular blazes of the NC BT.

As I ascended, Dewey and I paused briefly to enjoy the Osage Mountain Overlook at the parking area on NC106.

Then I began the final ascent over Scaly Mountain. At 4804 feet, it was a bit of a hump later in the day. As I worked my way to the summit, the tread gave way to many long swathes of exposed rock, reminding me of the Appalachian Trail in New England. I’m sure there would have been great views, but the weather conspired against me with clouds closing in and a misty rain gently falling. Once again, within minutes of throwing on my pack cover, the rain stopped.

I made good time downhill to the developed campsite on Tessentee Creek. It offered a fully furnished kitchen with metal fire ring, lantern post, and plenty of log stools and table tops.

It also offered a great set of trees for Dewey and me to enjoy our hammock for the evening.

We crawled in and slept well.

Monday, March 21

I was up early and hiking by 8 AM. I wanted to make good time back to my truck, since I had a few chores to do in Franklin and my wife was meeting me to shuttle my truck to where the BT crossed US19 near the trail’s northern terminus on Cheoah Bald.

The trail was surprisingly rough and rocky in the first mile and my progress was surprisingly slow. However, I began to move more smoothly as I pushed up the main ascent of Jones Knob. The morning was foggy and offered what Dewey referred to as “Grimms’ Fairy Tale Woods”.

But the day cleared and views became more prevalent once I reach the main ridgeline. Fishhawk Mountain showed its rough face.

Side trails offered excellent overlooks.

Dewey asked for a break at Wolf Rocks before we began our 2000 foot descent to Buckeye Creek Trailhead.

Then we headed down. On the ridge, we paused to glance at an old, long-abandoned school bus.

As we neared the trailhead, I noticed the first wildflowers of my hike, spring beauties beginning to blanket the slope.

In the last mile and change, we reached an old smooth roadbed that brought us quickly back to the truck.

There is no official Bartram Trail route through the 14 miles of Franklin to where the northern segment begins at Wallace Branch Trailhead. However, I chose to drive the road walk the Bartram Trail Society described as “recommended” to avoid the heaviest traffic of the area. It was on little country roads with no shoulder and locals who know the way well enough to whip along at 50 MPH. I was glad that I didn’t need to walk it.

All afterward was a blur, visiting the outfitter in Franklin, meeting my wife at Ron Haven’s Budget Inn, shuttling my truck up to US19. The official trailhead at Winding Stair Road was closed due to construction, so I parked at a picnic area a quarter mile down the road where Ledbetter Creek empties into the Nantahala River.

We headed back to Franklin for dinner and some quality time together before we drifted to sleep.

2011-04-22, 13:19
Tuesday, March 22

My wife dropped me off at the Wallace Branch Trailhead of the northwest side of Franklin around 9 AM. Just as I stepped off, I passed a pretty little feeder stream waterfalling its way to Wallace Branch.

I pushed uphill, gaining 1200 feet of elevation along a reasonable grade to the first Locust Tree Gap. Yes, that’s right, there are two gaps called Locust Tree just five miles apart on the Bartram Trail. The first offered a trickle stream that was the last water source for 7 miles, until a hiker reached the AT on Wayah Ridge.

Now the frustration began. Profile maps showed perhaps 1000 feet of climbs, gaining a net of maybe 500 feet of elevation over the five miles to the next Locust Tree Gap. In fact, that 5 miles stretch offered 15-20 small peaks gaining 50-200 feet of elevation straight up the fall line then straight down the other side. I stewed over named like “PUD Alley”, “PUD City”, and “PUDville” for this atrocious section of tiresome trail. Eventually, as the ups and downs continued, I settled on naming this stretch “PUDopolis”. I climbed a minimum of 1500 feet and maybe 2000 along these 5 miles.

It was tempting to burn up tremendous emotional energy on what seemed like a never-ending stretch of pain, but Dewey reminded me I was on vacation and I should stop my griping and relax.

Eventually, I reached the second Locust Tree Gap and enjoyed a quick break before I headed up the “honest” climb of a continuous 1600 feet to Wayah Bald. A set of wooden steps announced the beginning of the final ascent.

I grunted my way up and suddenly Wayah Bald, which had seemed so impossibly distant was right there in front of me.

I continued climbing, finally reaching a rhododendron packed gap where I drew water from a beautiful little stream, then joined the Appalachian Trail.

I turned uphill toward Wayah Bald, passing my first hiker of the last three days. My first impression was how rocky this stretch of the AT had become, compared to the smooth tread I had walked all day on the BT. If PUDopolis had been rock strewn this way, it would have been beyond miserable.

But I pushed on, arriving at the restored tower on Wayah Bald in short order.

Dewey and I chatted with another AT hiker, then we climbed up to enjoy the view.

After a few more minutes of peace and quiet, we headed on, our campsite at Wine Spring still a couple of miles beyond. We had climbed well over 4000 feet over the previous 11 miles and the day was waning.

The mileage seemed to melt away and just after 7 PM, we hung our hammock at Wine Spring campsite.

After a quick dinner, we turned in and slept the sleep of the supremely satisfied.

Wednesday, March 23

It was to be an easy day, and I needed it. A 2300 foot descent awaited, followed by a mostly level walk through Nantahala Valley.

I was up fairly early and walking by 8:15. The early morning descent was chilly in the shadow-filled coves.

The descent to Sawmill was quick, and after a snack I pushed on. A bit after 11 AM, I reached Wayah Road, alongside Nantahala Lake.

¾’s of a mile later, I arrived at the Lake’s End Restaurant. On the back deck, complete with a lake view, Dewey and I enjoyed one of the best burgers I can remember in a long time.

Then I strolled on, heading back into the woods. A short climb above the lake pushed me above the dam where the Nantahala River begins. Another mile later, and I descended to the easiest ford any where over the Nantahala.

On the other side, I joined a little used gravel road for two miles. It began to rain on me lightly. Unlike the other days with light rain, the precipitation did not end when I pulled on my pack cover.

When the gravel ended, I entered woods trail along the edge of Appletree Group Campground.

The camp was deserted, but this didn’t stop some employee from driving his truck down to make sure I didn’t have the audacity to sit down at a picnic table or try to use a privy in the rain.

I pushed on another ¾’s of a mile to where the guidebook mentioned decent campsites along the river. The one I found was actually quite nice.

It was only 3 PM and I had covered an easy 12 miles. I settled in, took a nap, and relaxed. The rain mostly subsided and I cooked a mellow dinner.

As the sun set, the wind began to pick up and I dropped the lean-to side down to form a tight A-frame. I was glad I did so later and a major storm system rolled through. I heard the next day there were winds of 40 MPH throughout the region, although my cove was somewhat protected. I heard three or four trees or very large branches come down in the early hours of the evening, but by 10:30 the weather had calmed enough that I could relax and drift to sleep.

Thursday, March 24

I was off early again, looking forward to an 11 mile walk to my truck and pizza at Nantahala Outdoor Center.

I headed up gentle slopes away from the Nantahala River. Eventually, as I worked my way around many coves, I eased around Rattlesnake Knob and began the 1500 foot descent toward the Nantahala once again. Beside a Duke Energy surge tank, I found an open view where I could catch a quick glimpse of the trail end up on Cheoah Bald.

I joined a gravel access road for a smooth walk down to the river, just off of US19. I crossed the bridge and began the final mile’s walk to US 19 and my truck.

Unfortunately, when I arrived at the bridge, it was completely encased in a massive tent.

Signs said lead was high in the area, and it looked like the workers were removing lead-based paint from the old bridge. Of course, this did nothing to help me, as I now had to back track a mile, then walk a mile of US19 to my truck. Anger carried me the mile back quickly enough. Desire to avoid the semis and other traffic on 19 hurried me along that stretch.

I arrived at my truck and was struck by the desire to investigate the area. My maps and guidebook confirmed that the stream which poured under the railroad tracks beside the parking area was Ledbetter Creek. This area included not only the Bartram Trail, but good campsites.

I headed over the tracks and within 300 yards, I was outside the no-camping zone and looking at a nice campsite by the creek. I had planned to stay in the Base Camp at NOC that night, but immediately decided I would sleep here instead for the night.

Then I headed for the River’s End Restaurant at NOC.

Dewey and I enjoyed a great Big Fat Greek Pizza on the deck overlooking the river and its many many paddlers.

Then we headed back to the picnic area and crossed over the tracks to the Ledbetter Creek campsite. Once we settled in, I backtracked down the railroad tracks to where the BT crossed US19. I then strolled back to camp. It was neat to see my site from above.

Dewey and I enjoyed some time sitting and relaxing next to the creek.

Then we turned in to the hammock to read and relax before our final day on the Bartram Trail.

2011-04-22, 13:20
Friday, March 25, 2011

I was up well before daylight and packing. I carried my gear back to my truck and stored it there. Then I grabbed the little daypack I would carry the 5 miles up to the 5062 foot summit of Cheoah Bald where the BT ended.

The tread started out very steep and I was glad to have had a couple of easy hiking days to rest my body a bit. Slackpacking didn’t hurt either. I still wasn’t fast, but I gained ground steadily.

As I rejoined Ledbetter Creek, the tread became a bit rocky, but the steepness leveled off a fair bit. Bartram Falls was a highlight of this section.

I continued up and immediately encountered rhododendron tunnels turned white with a light coating of snow. There had been a very light layer of mist in the valley where I had camped, but now it had given way to lingering snow.

In the last mile before the summit, the BT turned very steep once again, and I pushed hard. Eventually I joined the AT, just .2 miles from Cheoah’s summit and the trail’s end. I passed a couple of hikers heading down the hill, then another hiker enjoying lunch on the bare south face of the bald. Shortly after, Dewey and I ended our BT hike on the summit.

We paused for a bit, chatted with another couple of hikers that passed through, and enjoyed lunch with one of the best views of the entire hike.

Then we packed up and headed downhill. Though we had hiked all of the Bartram Trail, we still had a descent to get back to our truck. But it was a mellow walk compared to the ascent. Dewey and I discussed where we would hike next as we prepared to head for home.

Nearly Normal
2011-04-22, 16:14
Very nice.
That pic of the 2 steps falls on Chattooga is a favorite place of mine.
Simms field just downstream is over used as a camp but a 1/2 mile upstream is a great sand beach and camp/fishing/swimming hole in a big river curve.
There is 2 accesses to the river at the end of Big Bend Rd. One access to the river is marked, and it don't go there.
I base camp and fish that area sometimes.
Good pics.

2011-04-28, 17:09
Awesome post, Bearpaw!